In the spirit of Shakespeare we might ask "what's in a name?"
Among evangelicals "nominal Christianity" is disdained. At times we look down our noses at those who are Christians "in name only." Charles Taylor's analysis, rightly or wrongly, suggests that we evangelicals are descendants of a move to take faith more seriously, of zeal and enthusiasm. He criticises this for causing many to depart from the faith. Similarly the study 'Christianity and the University Experience' suggests that evangelical Christianity at University is, observably, about as attractive as it is repulsive, it's zeal draws people to Christ, the same zeal drives as many away.
Jesus, Luke, Paul and Isaiah would perhaps counter: the stone has been laid in the road - some will have faith in him, some will stumble over him. Sociologically, zeal might appear to be the issue. Theologically, Christ is the issue. Moreover, in favour of zeal and consistency, Christ doesn't appear to be one to take lightly. Christianity is a radical departure from death to life, dark to light, Adam-ism to Christ-ism. In the Bible truth matters, a consistent worldview is presented and a story in which one day things are as they should be.
(a) Are any of us actually close to taking our faith seriously? Whose zeal gets anywhere near what would be appropriate? Relatively speaking, aren't we all nominal believers? Weak in faith? Inconsistent? Mixed up? Sinning though we know better.Paul writes to his friends in Rome (Romans 13), in his implications of the gospel, that they're to put off the darkness and put on the armour of light... to make no provision for flesh and it's desires but rather to put on the Lord Jesus Christ. The day is at hand! You can change! Yet he also says, in Romans 7, that there is a deep tension in life between the flesh and the Spirit - such that we don't necessarily do what we want, we don't always act in accord with who we are... though that's not to deny a genuine change. The Christian does now want to do good, but carried around in perishing flesh still falls short of that new life.
(b) And, isn't a kind of nominalism exactly the nature of Christian faith. The focus of faith isn't how faithful or faith-filled we are but the one in whom we have faith, or more rightly, in whose name we're found. To be a believer is to be "in Christ", to pray "in Jesus name" as those whose names are graven on the heart of our high priest.
Insisting on consistency is probably problematic. Longing for it - normal and good.
As Luke Ijaz reflects:
There are degrees of faith and some have more than others, but in the end the Christian faith isn't about strength of faith so much as the strength of the one in whom we have faith. Let my life be changed, but let it be the change-bringer who catches the eye. All eyes on The Name.God does not want us to be strong. God wants to be our strength.— Luke Ijaz (@lukeijaz) April 26, 2016
Here is good news: my past and my present and my future are in the one who is outside me. However experienced or experiential my faith is or isn't, what counts isn't my experience, consistency or zeal. What counts is Christ and him crucified.
In believing the gospel of Christ. I am put in Christ. The zeal of the Lord has accomplished this.
Jesus receives the inconsistent, the failure, the misunderstanding, the rebel and the betrayer. He wants us and claims us as his own by his gospel. Jesus wants the unfinished and the messy. And he wants to put his name on us as we believe his gospel, as we're baptised into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The once beautiful rose of my life might be tattered and damaged that it could barely be called a rose... but, as Matt Chandler puts it, Jesus wants the rose.
He claims me as his own, and my name on his heart. I am his and he is mine. Faced with the situations of life, I want to know him more. I want to trust him more. I want to repent more. I want to be more self-forgetful. The substance of my faith is not any of the my-ness of my faith, but rather that Christ died for sinners, of whom I'm the greatest sinner I know.
My hope is that my name is on him and his name is on me.
Father... in Jesus name. Amen.
Image: Allng - Creative Commons